HOW TO GAIN PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE WHILE IN LAW SCHOOL
By Elise DiamondBio
These days, it is difficult to land a good paying job right out of law school. Yet, most law school graduates need to earn enough money to not only pay for living expenses, but also to pay off their student loans. If you are a law student, you may be contemplating how you can improve your chances of obtaining a job right out of law school, as well as preparing for the alternative that so many graduates have been experiencing (i.e. no viable job offers at all).
For many, merely having a Juris Doctor degree and passing the state bar exam will not be enough. Big law firms are generally only interested in those who attend top tier schools or are at the tops of their classes at second tier schools. Thus, if you are a student at a 2nd-4th tier school, “biglaw” is probably not an option for you (at least not right out of law school). Many small and mid-sized firms, which often lack the in-house training resources big law firms have to offer, only hire lawyers with experience. In addition, more and more law students are considering starting up their own solo practice right out of law school (mostly due to the difficulty in obtaining a job).
Thus, it becomes clear that, in order to increase one’s chances of employment in a firm or success in their own solo practice, obtaining practical experience while in law school is important. But how does one obtain that experience? Chances are good that your school offers opportunities—but it will be up to you to seek them out and implement them into your schedule.
The following are a few ideas about how to obtain practical experience while in law school based on my experience as a law student at Chapman University. Experiences and opportunities may vary at different law schools, and in different localities, so be sure to consult the career center at your school. In addition, there are other factors that can affect your chances of obtaining the job or internship you want, such as connections (i.e. your network), your financial situation, and your professional and academic background.
BIGLAW: SUMMER ASSOCIATE
Big law firms generally hire law students from top schools as summer associates. These summer associate positions are highly sought-after for students, because they are prestigious, pay relatively well, and get your foot in the door of “biglaw”. Having a summer associate position at a big law firm is often essential in order to even be considered by a big firm right out of law school.
The summer associate experience varies widely among big law firms. I have friends that had summer associate positions where all they did was file documents. On the other hand, I have also heard of big firms that provide their summer associates with substantive work. Most summer associate programs have some kind of structured training, as well as social events.
Big law firms tend to have their own specific recruiting schedules, so if there is a firm in particular that you are interested in, look at the Careers section on the firm’s website. Usually, big law firms begin recruiting about 6-8 months before the end of the school year. Check with your career center to see if they have a law firm recruiting schedule.